|SAMMY DAVIS JR. IN ONE OF HIS CLASSIC COMEDY ROLES|
You could write a book on that question alone, and probably more than one person has by now, but I'll simply remark that I've always understood the Biblical injunction against judging to be aimed more at one's soul than at their actions. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." (Matthew 7:1-2)
In other parts of the Bible, we're told not to worry about what others think of us as long as we act in righteousness for the Kingdom of God.* The suggestion behind it all is that the only opinion that really counts is God's, and He will judge each and every one of us based on what is inside us and how that has manifested itself in our thoughts, words and actions. As humans lack the ability of divination when it comes to reading a man's soul (with the exception of some extraordinary saints), I read this as telling us we should not judge one's character, one's soul, one's state of sin.
*Though we're also reminded not to engage in scandalous behavior which can cast aspersions upon our sincerity, or that of Christians in general. We may see this come into play in the next few paragraphs.
At the same time, however, we're also told to admonish our brothers and sisters who have fallen into sin (first making sure, of course, that we are not guilty of the same thing). For that to happen, it follows that we have some authority to draw conclusions about what a person does, based on that person's external behavior. We don't know for sure whether or not a person is in a state of grace, for example, or if they're possessed by truly evil thoughts and desires, but if they go around acting like a jerk, being impolite, doing nasty things to people, I think we could quite rightly infer from that behavior that this person, regardless of the condition of their soul, has some problems. And if we're that jerk, behaving that way with other people, we should expect that those kinds of conclusions are drawn. If we're a professing Christian, then this becomes cause for scandal, because by our own faults we encourage people to draw such conclusions. Again, being a jerk doesn't mean you're going straight to Hell (do not pass Purgatory, do not collect 500 indulgences). We don't know that.
But when we say someone is loathsome, when we deplore their actions and call into question the sincerity of their expressed values, what we're most often speaking of is this process of making a conclusion based on observed behavior. I think most of us are aware of that, and we aren't literally pronouncing judgment on someone's soul by saying something like that. "I find him grotesque, repulsive, etc." may be an inelegant use of language, it may be intemperate, but most reasonable people know what they mean when they say it, and most reasonable people know (or used to, anyway) what it means when they hear it. It means, "I find this person's actions to be [insert adjective of your choice]."
What I'm getting at with all this is that there's a lot of nasty behavior going on in social media, and in the circles which I frequent much of it is coming from the internecine conflict which our beloved Holy Father seems to have instigated, or at least brought to a head. Austin Ruse wrote about this very well in a recent article with reference to several Catholic bloggers who like to make grand pronouncements about people with whom they disagree. The question arises: how should one behave when finding themselves faced with such a person? Well, perhaps the best thing is not to find yourself in that position in the first place, which is why long ago I deserted the Catholic blogosphere in favor of the much more civilized world of classic television. I still run across these people, though; one can hardly keep up-to-date with current Church events without doing so. The political blogosphere is even worse. And as far as Catholics talking about politics - don't get me started.
It is not an exaggeration for me to say that I do, indeed, find the behavior of such people to be loathsome. In doing so, they transform themselves into loathsome individuals, and to draw such a conclusion based on what they've said is, in many cases, fairly temperate when compared to what these people themselves say and do. But am I judging them? Am I consigning them to the nether regions, where it's very hot even in wintertime? Of course not, and when they use the typical rhetorical tactic of attempting to turn the tables on anyone who disagrees with them by saying, in effect, "So's your old man!" they should be resisted.
What do I mean by that? Well, in fact, there often is no moral equivalence involved; calling someone loathsome is not the same as saying they're going to Hell. These people often are passing judgment on others, accusing them outright of sin, of not being true Catholics or even Christians. If they want to call someone names, then that's their right, and I'm not going to stress over it - except, as I suggested earlier, to advise them to by a thesaurus or something else that can help them expand their vocabulary. Their behavior certainly can be described as scandalous, and to the extent that they provoke intemperate responses in others, they deserve the lion's share of the blame. If one voices a negative opinion of this person's behavior - well, what other conclusion can you draw?
In the end, I don't know if I've accomplished anything with this. I vowed to write a certain number of words at this site this month, and this is part of it. I haven't engaged in any of these verbal fisticuffs, nor do I intend to, but I get highly put out when I read it, and I do think the people who do this are - here's that word again - loathsome. Am I judging them? No, and I'd thank you not to accuse me of that if you're tempted to. Am I drawing conclusions based on what I've seen, heard or read? You bet I have - and as long as such people continue to act that way, I'm going to continue to draw those kinds of conclusions.
For those of you out there who are like these people - don't you have anything better to do? For all that we moan about social justice warriors and how everyone's too sensitive and the world is filled with rage, it really is difficult to drive most people to anger. Mainly, they want to be happy and to be left alone. If these people worked half as hard at doing something good (or at least something benign), they might find their own world to be a much nicer place.
Originally published August 10, 2016